I’m not anti-Oprah. I’m not an Oprah groupie, either. I can think of several bombs on her book club list (I’m pointing at you, James Frey and Billie Letts!), but that doesn’t mean all of them were. She has very eclectic taste, covering a wide variety of styles and plotlines. The only common denominator I can see is that all of the novels she recommends are depressing.
Since Oprah’s Book Club has returned as 2.0, here is my timeline of books she was right-on about (IMHO) the first time around:
1999 White Oleander
What Oprah Says: “Page after page, I fell in love with a story that deeply moved me, and vivid passages that described the sky as the color of peaches and compared sorrow to the taste of a copper penny.”
What I say: The movie really sucked, but the book is prose that reads like poetry.
“The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert that fall. Only the oleanders thrived…”
2000 Open House, by Elizabeth Berg
What Oprah says: “In this superb novel by the beloved author of Talk Before Sleep, The Pull of the Moon, and Until the Real Thing Comes Along, a woman re-creates her life after divorce by opening up her house and her heart. Open House is a love story about what can blossom between a man and a woman, and within a woman herself.”
What I say: Elizabeth Berg brilliantly captures the emotions involved with losing someone.
“You know before you know, of course. You are bending over the dryer, pulling out the still-warm sheets, and the knowledge walks up your backbone. You stare at the man you love and you are staring at nothing: he is gone before he is gone.”
2001 Stolen Lives, by Malika Oufkir
What Oprah says: “…People read the book and they are changed by it—enlightened by it —opened up by it.”
What I say: This book is an emotionally evocative account of Malika’s political imprisonment in turbulent Morocco, and it is well worth reading for educational and entertainment purposes.
“Finally the trucks slowed to a halt. We were blindfolded and led through one door and then through another. The blindfolds were removed, and we found ourselves in the small courtyard of what seemed to be a former farmhouse-now converted to a prison. The walls of the enclosure were so high that we couldn’t see the sky. Soldiers stood at arms in each corner…”
2004 Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
What Oprah says: “From Stiva’s debts and infidelity to Levin’s idealized dream of a wife and family—from Nikolai’s drunken Communist rants to Kitty’s naive and passionate heart—Tolstoy weaves an extravagant web.”
What I say: Not being fluent in Russian (or knowing any at all), I can’t enumerate the merits of the new translation Oprah chose for her book club. I did read it, though, and enjoyed it quite a lot. There aren’t a lot of grabby lines in Russian literature, in general- things tend to be a bit dry and long-winded, so I won’t give you an excerpt. The plot is really the point of this story.
2004 One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
What Oprah says: “Brace yourselves—One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is as steamy, dense and sensual as the jungle that surrounds the surreal town of Macondo!”
What I say: An intricate, fanciful, truly epic, all-encompassing novel.
“He dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. Petra Cotes, for her part, loved him more and more as she felt his love increasing, and that was how in the ripeness of autumn she began to believe once more in the youthful superstition that poverty was the servitude of love. Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.”
2008 A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle
What Oprah says: “This is one of the most important subjects and presented by one of the most important books of our time, A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose. I don’t think there’s anything more important than awakening and also knowing what your purpose is.”
What I say: This book will blow your ego.
“So the single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind. Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.”